“Henry, are you passionate about Jesus?”
The voice on the other end of the telephone line belonged to a young black man I had befriended years before. A former confessing evangelical, he had since come out as gay and had told me that he was planning to become a woman. After hearing that I had done everything I could to assure him that though I hoped he would change his mind, I would be his friend no matter what he did because I wanted him to know Jesus. I’m not sure how the conversation got to his question, but there it was.
I had been going through a very rough few years, the result of my own stupidity. But I was also feeling like I was getting spanked harder than was needed, so the right answer would have been no. But I felt like I needed to put up a good front – “his soul was at stake,” after all – so after a moment or so, I said, “I guess so. I mean, yes. I am.”
I’m not sure where the conversation went after that, but he never again answered an email or called me back after I left messages, and that was more or less a decade ago. The question has haunted me ever since. Am I passionate about Jesus? Do I love Jesus?
For twelve years I’ve been making a pest of myself at church whenever some church official stands up in the pulpit during congregational prayer and thanks God for “the men and women who are fighting to protect our freedom.” “Is there no reason to doubt that they are fighting for our freedoms,” I would ask, and the response was basically “we were attacked” with Romans 13 sauce.
Well, I think the truth has come out. It won’t make any difference to anyone, but I’ll lift it high in the sky, let the whole world know.
Let me quote a paragraph from an article that is designed to make the Republicans look like liars. (When I landed on the page, a popup asked me to join the Democrats in defending “a woman’s right to choose.” I declined.)
Last week, Jeb Bush stepped in it. It took the all-but-announced Republican presidential candidate several attempts to answer the most obvious question: Knowing what we know now, would you have launched the Iraq War? Yes, I would have, he initially declared, noting he would not dump on his brother for initiating the unpopular war. "So would almost everyone that was confronted with the intelligence they got," Bush said. In a subsequent and quickly offered back-pedaling remark—on his way to saying he would have made "different decisions"—Bush emphasized that a main problem with the Bush-Cheney invasion was "mistakes as it related to faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the war." And as his Republican rivals jumped on Bush, they, too, blamed bad intelligence for causing the war. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), insisting that he would not have favored the war (if he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction), commented, "President Bush has said that he regrets that the intelligence was faulty." And former CEO Carly Fiorina noted, "The intelligence was clearly wrong. And so had we known that the intelligence was wrong, no, I would not have gone in."
Read the last two sentences again. Do you remember what “the intelligence” at the time said? It said that our freedoms and even our physical lives were in danger unless “our heroes” went to Iraq, took out Saddam, and installed a democracy.
Now the article goes on to say that Bush and the others lied about the intelligence, and that the real intelligence said nothing like what we were told at the time. I’ll let someone else make hay with that one. I want to get back to the truth – or at least the notion – that lies behind Rubio’s and Fiorina’s words: the war was unnecessary because our freedoms were never in danger from Iraq. They can be based on no other premise.
If our freedoms had truly been in danger, Rubio and Fiorina would be defending the war like mother bears. That they are backpedaling (being sure not to step on veterans’ toes) tells me they know that our freedoms were not in danger. The war was unnecessary.
Hundreds of thousands of people died in that war, and countless more were maimed. Four million people were driven from their homes, including communities of confessing Christians who had lived in an uneasy truce with Islam for over a millennium. And now, without intending to, bigwigs in the Republican party let it slip that the war was unnecessary.
There’s no apology forthcoming, of course. Love is never having to say you’re sorry, and the Republicans love the Iraqis, the troops, and the taxpayers who have paid for part of the war and will continue to pay for the rest for years. They would rather die than apologize. But they know they have to admit that the war was wrong if they expect to be in the White House to start the next unnecessary war.
Now we go back to the prayers in church for the war effort, and this is where I really struggle. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and I’m certainly not the most sanctified member of my own church, let alone the evangelical church at large.
So what am I to think when people who spend more time in the Bible than I do, whose lives reflect a humility and dedication and true concern for the people they see every day that I lack, and who I know have not done some of the stupid things I’ve done get something this important so horribly wrong? A stopped clock is right twice a day, and maybe I got the war right just by dumb luck.
Or was I on Jesus’ side all along? If so, how could people who read the Bible, pray, and hold each other accountable more than I do get it wrong? If I wasn’t on Jesus’ side, how can I love a God who can be snookered by the neoconservative cabal? And if I don’t really love God, am I not faking it to say I’m a Christian?
On the off chance that I got it right by virtue of principles that I believe but live up to imperfectly, let me state how I applied them in this case. You can decide if you want to adopt them and apply them yourself the next time “your freedoms are in danger.”
Love your neighbor as yourself. Do for others what you would have them do for you. Regard your neighbors’ bodies, property, reputations, and trust as sacred. Admit that you are a rebel against God and find forgiveness in Jesus’ death on the cross. Assume that anyone who says they have the right to violate others’ lives, property, reputations, or trust, even when they say they’re doing it on your behalf, and doubly so if they say they have some kind of divine mandate, is lying. Above all, seek to advance the kingdom of God through “deeds of love and mercy” and to acquire the righteousness that comes only from God through faith in Jesus.
The war was prosecuted by people whose actions before the war started showed me that they disagree with every one of the statements in the previous paragraph. So opposing the war was a no brainer.
But being right about principles is not the same as being passionate about Jesus. I think Jesus taught and lived up to the principles I listed, and I like that. But he also makes it clear that one cannot come to him without also coming to his people. If we are all rebels against God – me no less than others – and all God’s people are saved by grace – them no less than me – then being passionate about Jesus includes passionately loving those who in Jesus’ name supported an unnecessary war and will never apologize for doing so.
This time I know better than to try to fake it. I admit it: I’m not there yet.